A woman in Pingtung City brought tort (civil wrong) litigation against Matsu, or goddess of the sea, at the spiritual center of Pingtung County — Tzufeng Temple, allegedly for forcing her to serve as a spirit medium and sending spirits to harass her, which subsequently caused her to suffer from mental infirmity and lose her job. The woman asked for NT$100 million (US$3.4 million) in restitution from the temple, but the judge said there was no way to summon the goddess to appear in court and therefore rejected the woman’s accusations.
Tzufeng Temple president Tu Hung-cheng says that the temple has never elected a spirit medium in the three centuries since Matsu was given a shrine in A-hou City (historical name for Pingtung City). The temple is the main religious center in Pingtung City, he says, adding that everyone knows the temple does not use spirit mediums, and that making claims Matsu is forcing someone to become a spirit medium is preposterous. The suit against Matsu is a first in the history of the temple, Tu says.
The father of the woman told reporters that his daughter’s mental state is unstable and that he took her to a psychiatrist for treatment, but when no cause was found they started wondering if she was indeed channeling external spirits. His daughter is an adult, so he is unable to keep her from doing certain things, but he is deeply sorry for any trouble that she caused to the temple.
The woman first filed a suit in February, which was overruled by the Pingtung District Court. She subsequently filed a case with the Taiwan High Court’s Kaohsiung Branch Court, which was also overruled. Then she filed a suit with the Kaohsiung District Court, paying NT$17,000 in judicature fees. Recently the case was moved back to the Pingtung District Court, and although the original indemnity being sought — NT$100 million — was lowered to NT$3 million, the judge said that the accused of the indictment was a figment of the plaintiff’s imagination, lacking evidence or causation, so the charges were overruled once again and the judicature fee of $17,000 was not returned.
The right to choose someone to be a spirit medium rests with the gods, says veteran spirit medium Hung Wen-hsiung. Psychiatrists believe that from a medical perspective mediumship, or channeling, is a type of dissociative identity disorder. Some people have particular constitutions in which the brain’s nerve tissue is different from the average person, and in certain environments or atmospheres this can cause unique sensory responses and extreme, agitated mental states.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)